Monday, February 22, 2016

Wanderings: Fragrance Lake

Last weekend, Saturday dawned cool and overcast, and as I eyed those smooth gray skies I felt a bit apprehensive about setting out for a hike. The previous weekend's soggy slog along the Lime Kiln trail was still fresh in my mind. Those worries happily proved unfounded, however, as the skies cleared and temperatures warmed throughout the day, making it the perfect weather for the first hike and meetup of the book club I just joined, founded by my fellow blogger over at Alpine Lily.

After a quick stop for coffee, my sister, her pup Ruby, and I drove north through scenic Skagit County and along the gorgeous, twisting Chuckanut Drive to Larrabee State Park, where we'd meet up with our book club friends and hike to Fragrance Lake.

We parked at the Larrabee State Park lot, which at this early hour was nearly empty. After meeting up with our group, we crossed the street and headed into the forest along the Fragrance Lake trail. The trail begins climbing right away, and I was immediately reminded how out of shape I am as my lungs started to burn and my heartbeat thudded in my ears. Thankfully, one of the many wonderful things about hiking with like-minded people is that we all like to stop every so often to admire a particularly magnificent tree, or to marvel at the mossy green forest, or to watch a woodpecker, and of course to snap photos of all of the above. These moments gave me a chance to catch my breath during the uphill climb. Clearly I need to get back out hiking more frequently again!

The trail wound through some truly lovely second-growth forest, with moss everywhere, green sword ferns carpeting the forest floor, and a handful of huge Western red cedar and Douglas fir trees that had somehow escaped being felled by loggers decades - perhaps a century - ago when this forest was logged. There were also plenty of stumps bearing precise rectangular springboard notches in their crumbling flesh - evidence that these ancient trees had met their demise by the saw and been hauled off to the lumber mill. Many of these stumps, though they seem like tombstones for the magnificent trees lost, are signs of hope as well, with a new generation of trees sprouting from them and flourishing on the rich nutrients.

The trail leveled out after a few miles of climbing, and we followed the lake loop trail to the left, which took us past some wondrous sandstone walls that actually had trees growing from them! Walking past, I paused to rub my fingers across the stone's gritty surface, loosening a few grains of sand and marveling that they'd once been submerged in some ancient ocean. And now here they were, towering over a lake high up in the forest, with a forest of their own growing on top of them.

The lake itself was small and tranquil, and closely hemmed in by trees which only allow peeking glimpses of the dark rippling water through their branches.

We found a warm, sunny spot with a bench along the lake shore, where we stopped to drop our packs, have some snacks and chocolate, and discuss the novel our book club had read: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (a great book - I recommend it!). After some great discussion and lovely poetry was shared, we were beginning to feel the chilly air that suddenly seemed to have scoured all the warmth from the forest around us. I couldn't help but think of the snow child in the book - a young girl who could summon ice, cold, and snow at will - and felt my skin prickling with eerie goosebumps as I snapped a few photos with painfully chilled fingers, casting an eye toward the surrounding forest and wondering if I might see her there!

The lake loop trail continued along the shoreline behind a screen of trees that largely appeared to be Western red cedar, crossing several of the lake's inlet and outlet streams before rejoining the main trail. Down the winding trail and switchbacks we went, until we reached a short spur trail out to a lookout. We'd passed this trail on the way up, hoping that the skies would clear and we'd have a nice view of the ocean and San Juan Islands on the way back down... and did we ever! Between sea and sky and distant hazy islands, the scenery seemed to be colored in every possible shade of blue.

Leaving the viewpoint, we continued back down the trail, which was rapidly filling with a steady stream of hikers and dogs (many of which were off-leash... that's a big no-no!!!). I was grateful that we'd gotten an early start, and thus avoided the crowds. After we arrived back at the parking lot, our group decided to take the short trail down to the beach at Larrabee State Park, where we stood on the rocky shoreline, listened to the small waves breaking, saw a bald eagle soaring, and were treated to a sea-level view of the vista we'd admired from the viewpoint just a little while earlier.

With tired Ruby in tow, my sister and I made our way back to the car after our nearly six-mile hike, bidding our new book club friends farewell, and looking forward to the next adventure. In the meantime, we'll try to follow the advice written on the back of a sign at the Fragrance Lake trailhead:

If you go... take your Discover Pass and go early in the day! We set out on the trail just before 9am, and saw very few other hikers on the way up to the lake.

Sleepy Ruby on the drive home.


  1. So great to share the trail with you, your sister, and Ruby! And fun to see the hike from your perspective. I love your thoughts about the Snow Child when it got so cold for a bit - my mind hadn't gone there, but I love that yours did! You got some nice shots as well. Always enjoy your lovely prose.

    1. Thank you, Jill! It was a great hike and great company for sure. :) I always enjoy seeing everyone's photos and blogs afterward... It seems like we all notice different things, so that's fun to see.

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